Someone once asked me, “Hank, how do you know which puppy is going to be the next master level champion? How do you develop their hidden talents?” My answer to him was that the first part is easy: only the puppy that gets into the hands of a master level trainer will ever be a master level champion. You see, it is not about the particular puppy so much as it is about the authority that puppy follows. I could see by his expression that this was not the answer he was looking for, but it is certainly the truth. The same is true in our own lives. There are a great number of potentially great puppies just as there are also a great number of potentially successful men, but neither will become all they can be without following the proper Master.
While any puppy can become a champion dog under a great trainer, there are certain aspects that I look for in a puppy that make training them to master level champion easier. For instance, I always look for a puppy’s natural talents, speed, attitude, eyes, nose, intellect, etc. I watch to learn if he is aware of the things going on around him. Does he have good balance? Is he confident, assertive, and determined? While all these are great to find in a puppy there is one trait that is more important than them all: what is his dominant strength when performing? This is because knowing what this dominant strength is helps me to answer the second part of that question, how do you bring out a puppy’s hidden talents?
The first thing to understand about hidden talents is that a talent does, in fact, exist. It is called “hidden” because it has not yet been discovered, or worse yet, is not being used for various reasons. It is common for a puppy to take his dominant strength and use that strength only. If he has become successful with his amazing eyesight and stops using his sense of smell or sound, the result is his other talents weaken and become hidden to the degree that they seem to no longer exist. This is why dogs have trainers, and also one reason God gives children parents. We know that the day will come when less dominant talents will be needed and so we push them to develop those talents today. We teach them today what they do not know they will need tomorrow.
It logically follows that the more common danger is not in the weaknesses of a new puppy, but in his strengths. How does a strength become a weakness? As backwards as it sounds, it is often the dominant strength that destroys the dog’s chances of becoming a champion. Let me give you two examples: a puppy that is big and fast and dominant soon discovers that he can intimidate and take what he wants from the other puppies. That backyard learned characteristic becomes his go-to attitude, and he is forever trying to dominate and power his way over other dogs. In the same way, a puppy that has a wonderful nose will learn early to lean on that nose to find what he wants. While his smell is a great asset, it also causes him to hid his other talents. For instance, in a competition, this puppy will not fully watch the bird fall to the ground with his eyes. He will mark the zone or area that it falls in, and not the exact location because he believes that if he can get close to the fall area, he can locate the fallen bird later with his nose. The strength will often cost him the competition when the bird falls into a hole, a ditch, or the wind swirls or stops blowing, and he cannot find the scent.
The dog’s natural tendency to rely entirely on his dominant strength and not become balanced will cost him later in life. A good trainer (like a good parent) does not allow those they love to hide a weaker talent. They make them strengthen it.
We must remember that speed often leads to over running, aggression might lead to fighting, desire paves the way for breaking away, and pride will lay the groundwork for thinking that everything is ours and lead to disrespect. The list goes on and on. The ultimate dog is balanced and doesn’t just retrieve for himself, but retrieves for the one he loves more than himself…his master.
It is one thing to watch a very talented, albeit self-serving dog please himself and get most of the birds, but it is awesome to watch a champion dog get only the one you ask him to. When my puppies discover that they don’t have to ‘accumulate’ the most birds to be valued, they go beyond all other dogs and find a peace just walking by my side. In the same way, when we learn to follow our Master above all else, we are freed from materialism, from the false American belief that the bigger the “dog house,” the shinier the “collar,” the higher the “bird pile” gathered, the greater the person.
Every master dog trainer knows two things that every puppy and every son should be taught. One: it takes a greater dog/man to serve, honor, share, and go out to the unknown in faith than it does to take, accumulate, and control. And two: always bea ware of your gifts and don’t let the word push them to a weakness.
Here’s your training tip:
You have a great young dog that has a wonderful nose, but does not watch the bird fall to the spot. It marks the general area and then starts looking for another one to fall. When the dog is finally sent to retrieve the bird, it spends ten minutes running around that area to find it, relying solely on his nose. A possible solution is to go into a large open field and throw a bird into the knee-high grass and then send your dog. If the dog does not run straight to the spot of the fall, stop him with a command and make him sit. Walk out yourself with him still sitting. Pick up the bird and go back to the starting line with the bird. Call him back to you with no reward for going out to retrieve without being focused. Continue this until he learns to mark it and go straight to it. His desire to not let you get it first will make him concentrate on where it falls.
In His grace, Hank and THE DOGS
P.S. Monk dog says to remind you that, “If you cannot see in the dark…don’t go out at night.”